September 24, 2020

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Ambrosie continues to fumble CFL's plan for '20 season

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has some pretty big cojones to ask Canadian taxpayers to bail out the CFL only to completely go dark on them, according to columnist Jeff Hamilton. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press files)</p>

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has some pretty big cojones to ask Canadian taxpayers to bail out the CFL only to completely go dark on them, according to columnist Jeff Hamilton. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press files)

Opinion

Where is Randy Ambrosie?

It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately. And much like the commissioner of the Canadian Football League for the last few months, I don’t have much as far as answers.

I will say this, though: it takes some pretty big cojones to ask Canadian taxpayers to bail out the CFL — with league requests running as high as $150 million in the event of a cancelled season, to the most recent ask of $30 million in the form a no-interest loan from the federal government — only to completely go dark on them. All while Ambrosie has been using his trademark slogan: "We’re in this together."

Besides a few canned statements from the league, Ambrosie has been nowhere to be found. For someone who is supposed to be the face of the CFL, Ambrosie seems more interested in hiding in the shadows than stepping into the spotlight.

Consider: after pushing their own imposed deadline three times in the span of a week, the CFL released an "update" statement Friday that provided no update at all. Further, the statement wasn’t even attributed to Ambrosie.

What only made matters worse was the commissioner was then seen on video wishing the Suomen Amerikkalaisen Jalkapallon Liitto, a Finnish football league, good luck with the start of its 2020 season.

Finland is a member of the CFL-run International Alliance of Gridiron Football (a key part of Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 initiative), so the commissioner providing some public relations fodder isn’t much of a concern under normal circumstances. But we’re not working under normal circumstances, so Ambrosie looks completely tone deaf giving well wishes to one league while ignoring his own.

Don’t be surprised if media outlets start forming opinion pieces on whether Ambrosie is fit to see the CFL into the future. Personally, I’m not ready to push for his resignation and I’m equally unsure if I’ll get there once the league does provide a final answer on the season.

The fact is the CFL, like all industries, was dealt a tough hand with the outbreak of COVID-19. If the global pandemic has revealed anything about the CFL, it’s how shaky the ground was underneath the league even before the coronavirus hit. Ambrosie admitted as much during a House of Commons meeting in late April, saying the CFL loses anywhere between $10 million and $20 million a year, including $20 million in 2019.

(Side note: don’t buy into what teams suggest they’ll lose this year without getting a detailed look at their expenditures.)

But managing a crisis and hiding from one are two different things and the lack of transparency and empathy for its stakeholders is grounds for fierce criticism.

Let’s use a football analogy to sum up how the CFL has fumbled their approach since COVID-19 struck in mid-March.

There are 30 seconds left on the clock and the CFL is down by six points and about to receive the ball. They know they’ll be in tough to win, but if they’re going to have any chance of victory they need to get as close to the goal as possible.

By doing the right things early, the CFL could have positioned itself at midfield, with a much better chance of finding the end zone. Instead, a lack of transparency to fans and the creation of an inexcusable divide with the players has them starting on their own five-yard line, in need of a miracle to hit pay dirt.

What could they have done? Thanks for asking.

Had the league been transparent up front about its financial woes, they wouldn’t have created division among Canadians, many of whom began debating the value of the CFL when news finally broke about its request for $150 million in financial aid. I’ve never understood why the league would ask for that much cash and the only explanation I have is they wanted to profit off the pandemic using taxpayers’ money.

If the CFL had any foresight they would have launched some kind of public relations plan that put them in a positive light. Showcase your charitable work, set up a fund for players who weren’t able to secure government funding and whatever else you need to prove to Canadians you’re as important as you think you are.

Instead, they sat on their hands and took the punches when the request was inevitably leaked.

Ambrosie is a former player and he’s used that connection to the CFL as his leading argument for why he truly cares about the guys inside the lines. He’s referred to players as "working-class heroes" and "gifted athletes who spend countless hours in the community working in programs which addresses issues such as bullying, violence against women and food insecurity."

But the message he’s sent them in recent months is clear: you’re expendable. The lack of respect shown to the players, many of whom haven’t received a cheque since last November, gives a whole new meaning to football’s popular slogan of "next man up."

What’s worse is while the CFL nickels and dimes the players on what their value is in the event a shortened 2020 campaign is actually played, Ambrosie continues to allow the front offices of the nine teams to collect paycheques every week.

Why should (insert team president name), (insert general manager name) and (insert head coach name) continue to collect a majority of their lucrative salaries while the players — you know, the ones who put their bodies on the line week in and week out — are expected to just figure it out?

Imagine being a player and returning to the locker room at a heavily reduced salary while your coach, who has been pocketing big bucks for doing nothing, is telling you to run through a wall for the very organization that is trying to squeeze you for all your worth.

This is the point where one might suggest Ambrosie is just doing what he’s told. True, the commissioner is simply a pawn for the CFL’s board of governors but he’s also paid handsomely — upwards of a reported $1 million with bonuses — and if he can’t convince this group that what they’re doing isn’t helping the league then perhaps it’s time to find someone who will.

On that note, there’s supposed to be a board of governors meeting Thursday. Maybe that will be the time someone finally comes to their senses, stands up and says to the rest of the group that trying to scrape and crawl for a loan, to prop up a league that collectively loses money year in and year out, is ridiculous and it’s time to pull the plug. 

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Read full biography

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